Siavash (in Persian: سياوش) or Siyāvush, from Avestan Syāvaršan, is a major figure in Ferdowsi's epic, the Shahnameh. He was a legendary Iranian prince from the earliest days of the Iranian Empire. A handsome and desirable young man, his name literally means "the one with the black horse" or "black stallion". Ferdowsi, the author of the Book of Kings, (Shahnameh), names his horse Shabrang Behzād (Persian: شبرنگ بهزاد) literally "night-coloured purebred".
As a young man well-versed in the arts of war, he is granted entry to court by his father, the Shah. However, his stepmother, Sudabeh, the Queen of Iran, develops a burning sexual desire for him. Refusing her advances, Siavash will have nothing to do with her plans for intercourse. She fakes a rape and abortion scene and blames the double calamity on Siavash who is forced to prove his innocence by riding through a colossal mountain of fire. Despite his proven innocence, the Shah eventually grows cold towards Siavash as he does not want to punish the woman he loves or anger her father, a powerful ally in the East. Siavash finds no alternative but to go into self-imposed exile in the mythical land of Turan, and seek shelter under the rule of Afrasiab, the tyrannical arch enemy of the Iranian Shah. Finally, Siavash is beheaded by Afrasiab's henchmen. His wife manages to escape to Iran, where her son becomes the next Shah, Kai Khosrow. Finally, Shah Kai Khosrow takes a terrible revenge on Afrasiab and inflicts a heavy defeat on the Turanian army.
Siavash is the symbol of innocence in Iranian literature. His defence of his own chastity, self-imposed exile, constancy in love for his wife, and ultimate execution at the hands of his adopted host have become intertwined with Iranian mythology and literature over the past millennia. In Iranian mythology, his name is also linked with the growth of plants.
Iranian knights discover a beautiful young woman while on a hunting trip, a favourite pastime of the army hierarchy.They cannot decide on who should possess her for his own pleasure, and a major dispute erupts between them. Finally, they decide to take her to the Shah, Kay Kavus, for his judgement. The Shah decides to keep her as his own concubine. Siavash is the result of their union. However, as his mother is not an aristocrat, the Shah decides to send him to Rostam, the ultimate hero of Iranian mythology, for training in the military arts.
Rostam instructs the young Siavash in the arts of riding, archery, and speaking the truth. These were the fundamentals in the Acheamenian system of education and are reflected in the Shahnameh on several occasions. After a few years instruction, Siavash asks Rostam to return to the Court, so that he can prove his worth as a young prince.
At first, Siavash is well-received at Court. The ladies swoon over his youthful good looks, while the men are impressed by his mastery of the arts. The Shah even appoints him Ruler of Ctesiphon, the ancient capital of the Parthians(now situated near Baghdad). The Queen, Sudabeh, develops an instantaneous, and all consuming sexual desire for the young prince, and starts a series of plans to entice him to enter her chambers. She praises Siavash in front of the Court, and invites him to "visits his sisters," and become better acquainted with them. Siavash is not impressed with this proposal and suspects an ulterior motive. The Shah, well-aware of his own queen's connections-she was the daughter of the Shah of Hamavaran-insists that Siavash listen to his "mother" and visit his sisters. In her chambers, the Queen organises a magnificent reception for Siavash . He is seated on a throne, expensive perfumes are lavished upon the chamber, and the ladies sing and dance for his pleasure.
The Shah decides that Siavash should marry one of the ladies, and orders him to chose one immediately, but Siavash refuses to do so, sensing that his father's plans for a political union under the guise of marriage. The Queen can no longer control her desire for Siavash. She proposes to have her husband, the Shah of Iran, murdered so that she and Siavash can rule together, but he absolutely refuses to have anything to do with her. Queen Sudabeh realises that Siavash might reveal her plans to her husband, resulting in her certain death.
She orders one of the witches in her service to find 2 aborted foetuses and place them in a dish. She then runs to the Shah, ripping her robes, screaming, wailing, and crying. The Shah is deeply disturbed by the sight of his wife, bloodied and in tatters. The Queen accuses Siavash of raping her. She provides the aborted foetuses as evidence of his violence towards a "pregnant" Queen.
The Shah is devastated by the news, but listens to Siavash's plea of innocence. He first smells Siavash's robes and finds no sign of seduction or perfume upon them. Then he smells the robes of the Queen and finds them laced with the most exquisite of perfumes: a sure sign of seduction. Nevertheless, he imprisons Siavash, and orders that hundreds of beasts of burden be used to bring fire wood. A gigantic mountain of fire is set alight in front of the Palace, and Siavash is ordered to ride through the blaze: for if he is innocent, he will emerge unscathed, and if guilty, he should surely perish. Siavash, armed as a cataphract, and with a white cape, the symbol of innocence, mounts his faithful black steed and charges straight into fire. The Court holds its breath, as he disappears into the fire. Shortly after, the white knight emerges on his valiant black war horse unscathed, unharmed, and victorious.
Kay Kavus, the Shah, orders the immediate execution of the Queen for bringing shame on his name and kingdom. Wise and sober as ever, Siavash begs for clemency. He knows that the Shah loves his wife and will soon regret her passing. Not long after, the fickle Shah might even accuse Siavash of orchestrating the whole fiasco. The Shah is reminded of the Queen's royal connections, and the importance of his treaty with the Shah of Hamavaran. He relents, forgives his wife, and peace is temporarily restored to life at court.
Siâvash and Afrasiab
The second part of the Epic of Siavash is dedicated to his separation from his homeland, his unjust treatment at the hands of his own father, and his ultimate execution.
Afrasiab, the tyrannical ruler of Turan, a mythical land north of Iran, declares war on the Iranians for yet another time. Kay Kavus decides to make an example of Afrasiab's allies in the City of Balkh, and plans to invade it, but is dissuaded from personally attending the battle field by Rostam, the ultimate hero of the Shahnameh. Siavash volunteers for duty, and is immediately sent towards Balkh, and certain war.
On the Turanian side, Garsivaz, the ruler of the Bulgars joins forces with the Tatars under the command of Barman. The intense battle results in a crushing defeat for the Turanians who are captured by Siavash. Disturbed by ill-omens in his sleep, Afrasiab dreams of his own defeat, and upon hearing the news from Balkh, sends horses, armour, and swords, suing for peace. Garsivaz represents Afrasiab at the peace talks. Siavash agrees to keep one hundred hostages and the return of lands taken from Iran by the Turanians in return for peace. The cities of Samarkhand, Bukhara, Haj,and the Punjab are returned to Iranian rule while the hostages are taken into custody by Siavash.
The Iranian Shah is disgusted with Siavash's behaviour. He had hoped that Afrasiab would have been killed in battle. He writes a letter to Siavash at the height of his fury, and orders him to return home, while assigning Toos as the new commander of the Iranian forces. He also demands the transfer of the hostages for execution. The letter goes against everything Siavash had been taught to do by Rostam. Breaking a peace treaty, declaring war, and murdering hostages all sicken him. Siavash knows that he is incapable of these tyrannical acts requested by the Shah, and sees no option but to abandon his homeland and seek refuge in Turan.
Siâvash in Turan
Despite exile, Siavash is determined to find a new life for himself in the land of Turan. Afrasiab, the Turanian Emperor receives him warmly, and Peeran, the Grand Vizier, provides him with solice in his first few days in a foreign land. Eventually, Siavash falls in love with and marries Ferigees ("Curly Locks"), the Emperor's daughter, thereby sealing his new attachment to life at the Turanian Court. Delighted with the marriage, Afrasiab bestows the county of Khotan (now in Xinjiang, China) onto the bride and groom. Siavash sets about creating a new city, called Siavashgird, or "the round city of Siavash", and Gong ("Giant") Castle. Siavash's sudden rise to favour at the Turanian court causes a lot of jealousy amongst the knights, and dignitaries who wonder why the Emperor's daughter had been given to the prince of Iran, their sworn enemy. Chief amongst the disgruntled few, Garsivaz sends secret messages to Afrasiab, and proclaims Siavash "a traitor," in view of his "letters" that had been sent to his father in Iran, Shah Kay Kavus. He also convinces Siavash that Afrasiab is plotting against him and will soon invade Khotan to reclaim the land bestowed upon him.
Soon, the impetuous and egotistical Turanian Emperor mobilises against Siavash, and defeats his small army. However, Siavash manages to help his wife, Ferigees to escape with Peeran, who ensures that Ferigees reaches Iran, where her son, Kai Khosrow will grow to become a wise Shah who eventually restores order.
Siavash is dragged before Afrasiab, who orders his execution by beheading. Peeran emplores the Emperor not to commit the horrendous mistake of killing the innocent. "Do not make thyself a flag upon this Earth." Afrasiab ignores this warning and the execution is carried out swifty. As Siavash's blood reaches the ground, a plant grows upon the same spot and is later named "Khune Asyavushan," or the "blood of Siavash." This line in the epic ties the story to the early links between the name "Siavash," and his role as the spirit of vegetative growth.
His death in the Book of Kings has spurred hundreds of poems, essays, songs, and stories in Iranian literature.
- Siyavuş Pasha, the name and title of various Ottoman people
Sources and references
- Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis trans. (2006), Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings ISBN 0-670-03485-1, modern English translation (abridged), current standard
- Warner, Arthur and Edmond Warner, (translators) The Shahnama of Firdausi, 9 vols. (London: Keegan Paul, 1905-1925) (complete English verse translation)
- Shirzad Aghaee, Nam-e kasan va ja'i-ha dar Shahnama-ye Ferdousi (Personalities and Places in the Shahnama of Ferdousi), Nyköping, Sweden, 1993. (ISBN 91-630-1959-0)
- Jalal Khāleghi Motlagh, Editor, The Shahnameh, to be published in 8 volumes (ca. 500 pages each), consisting of six volumes of text and two volumes of explanatory notes. See: Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University.